The One Biceps Exercise Wasting Your Time — and 3 to Try Instead

Get the most out of your biceps workout with standing dumbbell curls.
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If you're looking to build arm strength, you won't want to skimp on biceps exercises. But doing the right moves is just as beneficial as filling your upper-body workout with tons of biceps supersets — if not more so.


To get the most out of your upper-body workouts, skip the barbell curl and opt for a standing dumbbell curl, incline curl and spider curl to strengthen and sculpt your biceps.

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Why You Should Skip the Barbell Curl

Although there's no bad biceps exercise necessarily, some moves make it easier to commit some common errors. The barbell curl is one move you perform with caution (or skip entirely), according to Samuel Chan, DPT, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist Bespoke Treatments in New York. Here's why:

1. People Tend to Swing the Barbell

Swinging the weights is one of the most common biceps exercise errors Chan sees people make. Using momentum to curl the barbell causes your elbows to shift away from the sides, which takes the work out of the biceps.

To fix this mistake, lower the weight you're lifting until you can perform each rep with the strength of your biceps, rather than the momentum of the weight. Using a mirror can also help you catch any unwanted movement of the elbows.


2. It Only Work Partial Range of Motion

Unless you're performing your biceps moves with a full range of motion — from your arm fully extended to your elbow fully bent — you're cheating yourself out of the exercise's benefits, Chan says.

"The end ranges of any motion are typically the weakest, so don't simply work mid-range and perform half curls," Chan says, noting that it's easier to do this with a barbell. "Fully curl, then fully extend your elbow with each rep to get the most benefit our of your biceps exercises."


3. It's Hard on Your Wrists

Lastly, using a barbell can be taxing on the wrist, causing pain or discomfort, as you're unable to bend or flex your wrists as usual, Chan says.

Instead, Chan recommends you substitute the barbell with an EZ-bar instead. Because of this bar's grooves, the EZ-bar will place the elbow and wrist in a more comfortable position. Or, try some more effective exercises (keep reading).



Try These 3 Biceps Exercises Instead

The best biceps exercises will hit your upper arm from different angles, Chan says. Because your biceps is a two-muscle joint, crossing both your elbow and your shoulder, you can lift weights in slightly different positions to get a better workout.

You also want to select exercises that enable you to contract as much of the muscle as possible. The more of the muscle you're able to activate and use during your workout, the stronger your biceps will become, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).


Choose weights that allow you to perform each exercise with good form. You want your biceps exercise to feel comfortably challenging.

1. Standing Dumbbell Curl

Skill Level Beginner
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly, engage your core and maintain good upright posture.
  2. Position your arms so that your palms are facing forward. Hold onto the dumbbells, but don't grip them so tightly that you feel strain in your forearms.
  3. With a flat back, elbows pinned to your sides, curl the weights up to your shoulders.
  4. Lower the weights back to your sides with control, keeping the elbows locked at your ribs.

2. Spider Curl

Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Set a bench at around a 45-degree incline.
  2. Place your knees on the seat of the bench, and lay your stomach and chest down on the bench’s back. The top of the bench should be around mid-sternum.
  3. Hold dumbbells in each hand with an underhand, palms-up, grip, and let your arms hang down straight from the shoulder.
  4. Without swinging your upper arms, bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders.
  5. Squeeze your biceps at the top, and then control the weights slowly back to the hanging position.


The spider curl exercise starts with the biceps in a shortened position, since the shoulder is flexed, Chan says. This is a more effective exercise that maximizes muscle tension when compared to the preacher curl (a move that also keeps the biceps shortened).

3. Incline Curl

Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Arms
  1. Begin seated on an incline bench with your back flat against it, a pair of dumbbells in each hand.
  2. Root your heels into the ground and pull your shoulders down and back.
  3. With your elbows close to your sides, curl the weights up to your shoulder.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.




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